Over 50% of women use a contraceptive linked with failure

The Dublin Well Woman Centre has recently conducted a study that found a significantly high degree of misunderstanding on the topics of fertility and contraception, with over 50% of women using a contraceptive that is linked with failure

The Dublin Well Woman Centre is an organisation that supports women’s health issues and particularly, women’s reproductive health issues. They provide a variety of health care services including family planning, counselling and sexual health services.

Client-centric and committed to providing the latest in health care development, the not-for-profit organisation champions women’s sexual health at every life stage. 

Their undertaking of this project is rooted in the belief that ‘a woman’s equality is strengthened through her ability to control her own fertility, and being able to receive clear information on all of her options, and to access the most effective form of contraception, without barriers’.

The study was conducted on 1,014 women aged between 17 and 45 who are sexually active with male partners to find out what their contraception habits are. The subjects answered an online survey between March 10 and March 23, 2020, and varied in their social class, marital status, living situation and sexual orientation. 

Overall, there is significant evidence that there is a real lack of understanding among a significant proportion of 17-45s in relation to fertility and contraception. Almost 1 in 3 (30%) women aged 17-45 are not aware that LARC is the most effective form of contraception. This form includes injections, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and subdermal contraceptive implants.

With 1 in 10 women still believing that the withdrawal method is a 100% effective form of contraceptive, and 21% of participants believing that impregnation while experiencing your period is impossible, it is clear to see that our sex education is not up to scratch.

Condoms and the Contraceptive pill came out on top for the most used form of contraception, with 31% of survey-takers having used the contraceptive pill and 25% using condoms, despite the Dublin Well Woman Centre’s efforts to educate women about LARC alternatives.

Only 9% of subjects used the hormonal coil, or IUS and 4% used implanted contraceptive capsules. At 3% and 8% respectively were the practice of abstinence and withdrawal method. 6% of subjects say that they use no form of contraception.

While 60% of women aged 17-45 understand that not having to remember to use contraception on a daily, weekly or monthly basis is a benefit of LARC, with almost the same proportion (58%) believing that a benefit of LARC is that they are highly effective forms of contraception, it is still not the most popular form.

It seems the reason for its unpopularity is that almost 3 in 5 (57%) women aged 17-45 who are aware of the term LARC believe that how their body might react to a LARC is a negative aspect of LARC. Just over 2 in 5 (41%) claim that they heard that some LARC are uncomfortable to have inserted and almost 4 in 10 (37%) are of the perception that they cost too much upfront/are too expensive.

Some of the other major findings uncovered by the study are as follows:

Just over half (51%) of women aged 17-45 claim that they have had sex where no contraception was used and claim that it has happened at least once in the last twelve months. Within that statistic, 17-24 year olds are most likely to claim that they have had sex where no contraception was used once or more often in the past 12 months with 75% answering that no contraception was used in the last twelve months. 

Almost a third (31%) of females aged 17-45 have had sex in the past where the contraception failed and 73% of those who have experienced a contraceptive failure in the past claim that they were using a condom/male sheath when the contraception failed.

Just over a third (35%) of those that have had sex where the contraception failed claim that it resulted in a pregnancy, with 30% of those aged 17-24 who claim to have had sex where the contraception failed, claim it resulted in a pregnancy.

Those aged 17-24 (53%) are significantly more likely to claim that the cost of the contraception is important when deciding on which type of contraception to use.

25% of women who have had sex where no contraception was used or where the contraception failed, claim that they took an emergency contraceptive pill at least once in the past 12 months.

Almost 1 in 5 (18%) women aged 17-45 claim that they have to travel outside of the town/city/village that they live in to access the contraception they are currently using.

36% of women’s first source of information for contraception is the GP and 17% go to search online. 8% go to women’s health clinics and a further 7% consult with friends as their first source. 

30% of subjects thought that it was false that LARC are the most cost-effective form of contraception over the long-term, when it is true. 

49% of subjects did not realise the failure rate for the pill is 9%, meaning that 9 women out of every 100 using the pill will become pregnant.

The researchers found that the top factors that influence contraception choice are: 1. How effective it is in reducing the chances of a pregnancy 2. Positive health benefits such as lighter/less painful periods, improved acne etc. 3. Protection against STIs 4. How easy it is to access the contraception from my local healthcare provider 5.

There is a low level of hormones or no hormones entering my body 6. How quickly it will allow my normal fertility to return once I stop using it 7. The cost of the contraception and 8. It doesn't have to be taken each day

The three key takeaways from this study are that:

1. Women are relying on less effective forms of contraception to prevent pregnancy, 

2. Women face many barriers to accessing the most appropriate forms of contraception

3. A significant number of women have a lack of understanding about contraception

The Dublin Well Woman Centre hopes that this study will spur government action to prioritise the introduction of free contraception for sexually active women within their reproductive years.

This suggestion comes within days of Scotland’s decision to eradicate period poverty with their introduction of the new Sanitary Products Bill, giving every woman access to free sanitary products, setting aside £9.7M for the project, a step in the right direction for female reproductive rights.

The Dublin Well Woman Centre calls for a programme in Ireland that would be ‘realistically resourced, so as to ensure that all forms of contraception are readily available. It must also be supported by a comprehensive education and awareness programme, with age-appropriate information targeted at women and girls’, as is clearly needed. 

Chief Executive, Alison Beggs, thanked Bayer for their support which made it possible to commission this national research, as well as Robert Clarke and his team at Empathy Research for their ‘professionalism and rigorous approach’.

She stated that ‘We are pleased to share this important national research with decision-makers and policymakers, as well as with the wider community. We are confident it will make a meaningful contribution to the debate on contraception in Ireland’.

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